Yesterday I had the absolute pleasure of running a session about social media for the school of midwifery at the University of the West of Scotland, something, based on my experiences when trying out new contexts, that I thought would be an unusual request and a challenging topic to deliver. It turns out that it was actually one of the most engaging sessions that I had done in a long time, and so far removed from the backlash that I am used to hearing from at least within my own discipline.
Although I had prepared some materials, I decided that it was better to focusing on the whys and the hows, rather than acting as if I was pitching a various range of platforms (that many of these sessions end up being, a sales pitch for the latest web technology platform) – where the common role was to establish a dynamic presence that allows for the particular subject area to create a site that can promote department events, share interesting information, encourage reflective discussion online and as a service for students who are out on placement. Something that can be managed across a number of people, rather than relying on an ‘official’ top down process that currently exist.
We’ve been doing this for a while now on the likes of @UWSCreative, our school’s blog which is literally ran on the free and hosted version of wordpress.com and has been in use for the last 4-5 years as a portal for just sharing the things we are up to in the same place. Much of these things, although important, aren’t really press release material but still deserves recognition on an internal and external level – that is, communities of practice, student work, research outputs, presentations, events, stuff we life and so on. Although it’s not perfect, and will probably benefit from a redesign soon and a review of strategy, it has been the start of something that has led to other wordpress-hosted projects such as the creative futures research centre that I’m part of, the skillset media academy and the uwsdigital consultancy site.
The freedom to establish coherent identities in the same way that the ideas have been constructed in the first place – fluid, organic, creative – is one of the reasons why it is important that as a university that we allow/encourage people to build their own sites for groups, projects, courses, schools and any other circumstances that could benefit from a working-space online, rather than simply an official website and a VLE. This is not a space that should be corporate and controlled (there is a purpose for them with regards to making sure information about institution is uniformed and a window to the world), this is a creative, autonomous, conversational space – similar to the environment you get when you hang around a university canteen or local coffee shop – a space to generate ideas and work through them with the community that benefits from them. Equally important as the ‘official’ top-down strategies, which may mean well but require much more than simply projecting/enforcing policy in a hope that it might stick.
Rather than it being a technical workshop (as I promised myself I would never do one of those again, despite getting a bit of a confidence knock when I gave a session before xmas where the participants were resistant to changes to format and delivery, expecting a straight forward lecture and chalk and talk.), the session worked more as a brainstorming/myth busting session, focussing on what they might do after when they leave the room, rather than bombarding with the possibilities on different levels. The point of this should be that it is easier to do than to get somebody else to manage it or to outsource it to a commercial company and can be picked up through the practice of doing it, rather than the ticking of a box to say that a social media training session has been attended. It is a collaborative process, which works when people use it and have a purpose to – rather than the assumption that building it that people will find it and use it.
From the two hour discussion, we prepared a set of objectives and processes that would lead to the potential development of a website that acted as a hub for the particular program. The elements that it would contain would be discussed and planned out, as well as brain storming ideas that potential content could be. We also looked at the possibility of working on ongoing social media surgeries, a discussion that myself, David McGillivray, Gordon Hunt and others -such as the Skillset Media Academy – have already been having in terms of ongoing support and development, that would feed into the general maintenance of the site, that would also allow for the process to be reviewed organically and new ideas tested and tried out across faculties. Encouragingly, one participant Linda, went away that evening any set up her own wordpress blog just to experiment about how quick and easy it was to do, and tested the possibilities as a space for sharing discussions and content. All very positive and encouraging in terms of outcomes of a session.
As promised, a list of links to the websites that were discussed that you can have a go with using:
WordPress.com: Free blogging/website building platform. Dead versatile, can be used for personal projects, group projects and can be customised to suit purpose. It’s also transferable if you ever want to leave or import existing content into it. There are a bunch of simple tutorials available here – but you can also use google to search for more specific problems.
Slideshare.net: For sharing and hosting slides, documents and .pdfs so that you can ’embed’ them in places such as a VLE, a website or even facebook. Good for getting more people to see your work, but also a really useful resource for getting ideas for slides or inspiration for presentations.
Flickr.com: A photo-sharing website where you can host your own photos and can feed into a website easily. It’s also a good place for finding photographs for your own posts (if you don’t own a suitable one) – you can use them freely if available on a creative commons license. Same goes for open access journals and exploring alternatives to copyrighted materials.
There are also the usual suspects such as facebook (for groups and student related discussion, an additional space to share content), twitter (an official department account would be a good start, but also encouraged to set up your own account to stay in touch with others in the university and in your field) and youtube (for tutorials, but also really easy to upload video of your own from events or discussions).